Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: Dissolution

I have, it must be admitted, come to this series quite late! I noticed the fifth in the series when it recently came out, and then realised I should start at the beginning, a very good place to start. So off I began on one of my favourite adventures, to find the books in secondhand bookshops or charity shops, and have now accumulated the first four books in the Shardlake series. This one, the first in the series by CJ Sansom, was taken on holiday, and speedily enjoyed.

Shardlake is a lawyer in Tudor England. At times, he is called on by Lord Thomas Cromwell to do some investigations, and so off he goes to a monastery in Scarnsea where a foul murder of a King's Commissioner has taken place. This is a murder mystery set in a traumatic and exciting period in English history, as Henry VIII is breaking with Rome and setting himself as Supreme Governor (on earth) of the Church of England.

As well as the unfolding murder mystery (with plenty of surprising twists), the book also charts the opinions of 'ordinary people' on the ideas surrounding the Reformation, as well as presenting the gruesomeness of life in the 1500s, through the sights, smells and situations that Shardlake finds himself in.

Yet at times, Shardlake seems very politically correctly modern, for example in driving a wedge between the church and Jesus: 'Christ himself had comforted me against the words of the Church that was supposed to be his.' (p. 40). Or similarly, as the dissolution of the monasteries is being accomplished, Shardlake seems to become weary of the whole reform project, becoming disillusioned with it, and declaring 'in my willful blindness I had refused to see what was before me eyes. How men fear the chaos of the world, I thought, and the yawning eternity hereafter. So we build patterns to explain its terrible mysteries and reassure ourselves we are safe in this world and beyond.' (p. 382) Or again, on the reform party, 'There Bible says God made man in his image but I think we make and remake him, in whatever image happens to suit our shifting needs.' (p. 439)

Dodgy religious commentary aside, the book is great, both at raising the issues of the reformation, but much more at the straightforward murder mystery in a historical setting - a difficult genre to get just right, but something that Sansom has definitely succeeded in doing! The second in the series, Dark Fire, is in my to-read pile already...


  1. Gary

    Thank you for reviewing this book. I bought it on your recommendtation and thoroughly enjoyed it. I now have "Dark Fire" ready to read!

    Hope that you are well.


  2. George,

    Glad that you liked the book and that my review and recommendation was spot on. Do let me know how you get on with Dark Fire too! I have the next one sitting on my 'to read' shelf but there are other things which are more pressing at present.

    I'm keeping very well, and yourself?